Thanksgiving is a time many Americans dread for fear of intense political discussions with their family. While many are slowly realizing that the holidays leave little room for politics, Vassar College Interim President Jon Chenette did not see it that way.
On Wednesday, Chenette addressed his institution, located in Poughkeepsie, New York, with a Thanksgiving message. He tailored the message to address the election.
“With the approach of Thanksgiving break, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the texture of campus life in the wake of the recent election,” he began. Chenette said college campuses are interesting locations following elections. He was speaking of the informal dialogue, debate, and protests that occur on campus.
Later in his letter, Chenette described some concerns that students and faculty had regarding “actions threatened, particularly against people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, and others.” He responded to those concerns:
As a college, a main source of our strength lies in our sense of community and in our commitment to having that community be as inclusive and empowering as possible. We believe strongly that people from all backgrounds and circumstances belong at Vassar. We commit whole-heartedly to the support and encouragement of our students, especially at a time when some in our country seem to be calling into question the rights of some groups to full dignity and respect.
Though he never mentioned president-elect Donald Trump, Chenette — insisting that “We also have an obligation to speak out” — used the remainder of his letter to express his plans to join over 100 other college and university presidents in “urging him to condemn the hate speech and acts of violence being perpetrated across our country.” Chenette called the group letter “a first step,” saying that he had faith that the the students and faculty would continue to discuss and participate in activism.
Chenette announced that he teamed up with the Seven Sisters Colleges to write an open letter to Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, who he also did not mention by name. He accused Bannon of having “a shameful record of homophobic and misogynistic statements and support for other hateful speech.”
Lastly, Chenette made the case for upholding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that assists undocumented immigrant students.
Chenette closed his letter:
As recent events make clear, much work lies ahead. But as this campus makes clear, there is much to be thankful for. I hope that all of you will find comfort and joy in your family and friends during the coming weeks. I hope further, for all of us and for those we care about so deeply, that as a country we can reaffirm our commitment to the rights of all people.
All three letters can be found here.
You can read Chenette’s full address here.